Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dead end

Okay, it's not very often I cannot bear to finish a book, but I'm afraid it has happened. And after holding such hopes for a good un.

Patricia Cornwell's Book of the Dead just hasn't done it for me, in fact I will go as far to say it annoyed me intensely, to the point I couldn't carry on. Which is a shame, and a waste of money on what is for others is I'm sure, a perfectly good book. I managed a quarter of it before deciding life was too short, and closing the chapter on Kay, Benton, Marino, Lucy et al.

Thank you to those who informed me that yes, I had picked up the wrong one, and the Cornwell book that is supposed to be terrific is Scarpetta. I'll need to wait a bit before I invest more money and time in it, as I'm a little wary after this last effort.

So here we are at the end of January, and I haven't got a single entry in my Books I've Read notebook (a new notebook - black with overlapping and intersecting embossed circles - lovely, thanks April) Do other people record the ones they couldn't stand and couldn't finish?

We're off to Naseby for a last hurrah before the kids start school next week so there will be silence on Overkill for a few days. There's almost no cell phone reception over there, let alone internet capabilities, so I shall have to make do with the next novel to read, the manuscript to edit, sunscreen (optimist), bikes and boardgames with the kids and plenty of Sav Blanc.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

North & South - recommended reading

This month's North & South magazine has a feature on the Lundy Murders that makes for very interesting reading.

For those who have been in a news vacuum, or my overseas readers, Mark Lundy was convicted for the murder of his wife and seven-year-old daughter back in 2002. The fact he was found guilty baffled me back then as the evidence presented was rather flimsy and the time-line explanations offered by the police always seemed far-fetched to the point of physical impossibility.

At the time, nationally, popular opinion was divided, but around our dinner table the other night, a discussion of the case with our guests, based on information the general public received, our informal opinion trumped up 5-0 for Mark Lundy being innocent. As an aside, it's not our normal dinner time entertainment to discuss grizzly murder cases with the guests, it can put you of your BBQ, but then, this can be a strange household at times.

Anyway, I would recommend the North & South article as an interesting view on what was a high profile true crime in NZ.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What strange creatures we are.

My deadline is looming. By the 20th of February I have to have furnished my lovely publisher with the manuscript for Containment. That is only 26 days away.

It is school holidays, the kids are home, I've had guests to stay, the house looks like a bombsite, courtesy of my resolution to avoid housework. That resolution has driven home the realisation that if I don't do it - no one else does. Bum. I've been working frantically in snatches between the lovely demands of being Mum and host and wife and sister and friend and everything and by rights I should be freaking out about now!

But I'm not.

The freaking out sensation has been replaced by excitement.

I find myself excited by the prospect of racing towards a target, that this novel which has been, to be honest, a struggle for me is finally coming together, forming into a cohesive whole. And if I was going to be completely honest, I'd have to say I'm going to thrilled when this one is over and I can get cracking on the next one which is banging around in my head and demanding my attention more and more and I've had to say, no, get back you buzzard, wait until I've finished the other book before you take over my life.

Sometimes I think I'm a strange little critter. Maybe I'm the type of person who needs pressure to be able to really crack on and get the job done. That might explain why I let my life get rather full. What ever the reason, I find myself reveling in the fact this date is looming and I'm busy as hell, and working my butt off and still have a heap to do, and I wouldn't swap it for the world.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Odd crime bits from the news

There's the dumb and the plain unlucky in these little snippets from the news:

If you're going to lie, do it properly :

A teenager caught shoplifting decided to give a fake address to the police. Didn't quite work out as planned.

Thief caught out giving policeman's address.

This kid's a sitter for a career in law enforcement:

Little Mr Eleven-month-old had been playing with the telephone and accidently rang 111. When the police arrived, they found a little bit more than a cute toddler.

Baby dobs in dad's dope crop

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is she back from the dead?

Patricia Cornwell was one of the writers who fueled my love of crime fiction. It started with her first book, Post Mortem, way back in 1990. I had a science background, with a degree in Pharmacy and was fascinated by the science behind the forensics, this book combined all the things I loved and characters who captured my imagination. I was faithful in buying each new Scarpetta title for quite some time before I eventually grew to feel she was beginning to lose her edge and my interest wavered.

A while back I decided to give her another shot and read Predator, and was quite disappointed. That book seemed to confirm my belief Cornwell had become tired with Kay Scarpetta et al.

But lately I seem to have had all these comments from people, have you read the latest Scarpetta? It's great, she's back to her best. And when my publisher was busy gushing about it when we were chatting on the phone, and saying I must read it, I thought, hmmm maybe I'll have another shot at her after all.

It just so happened I was in the University Book Shop today (go figure) and I just so happened to see a copy of Patricia Cornwell's Book of the Dead, and it just so happened to jump into my hand and find its way, with my wallet to the counter. I just so happen to find myself feeling quite excited by the idea Patricial Cornwell is back to her best. In fact I'd give a big three cheers and a good on ya, gal to her if I find the book unputdownable.

I'll give you my post mortem of it later...

A post script - I'm now thinking did I buy the right book, or was it Scarpetta everyone was talking about?! Do I have to go and buy another?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Buried treasure

I have mentioned several times previously my tendency to accumulate piles of cra.... I mean stuff that I'm not sure where to file, or what to do with, but cannot under any circumstances bring myself to throw out.

I went looking through one such pile, and found this book, which I had forgotten I'd purchased. Out of sight out of mind, as they say.

Hard Cases by Bryan Bruce.

This is a true crime book looking into some of New Zealand's most notorious murder cases including the David Tamahere case, the Thomas murders, and the murder of Kirsty Bently, amongst others. Bryan Bruce created the television series The Investigator, and I presume this book is a follow up to that series.

Now I have rediscovered this acquisition I look forward to having a good read. There are plenty of photographs to accompany the text, and the peeks I've had look interesting.

Hopefully I'll discover a few more, ahem, forgotten purchases buried in other piles around the house.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Retail therapy - the sequel

My name is Vanda - I am a stationery-o-holic.

Today I fell off the wagon.

I looooove back to school stationery time. When the retailers have price wars and you can pick up your year's worth of goodies for ridiculously little dosh, I enjoy doing a stationery crawl around the town. In fact, I'm sure we pay less now than when I was a kid at school. I can remember my mum shuddering each year when the stationery requirements list came home from school, and her wondering which body organ she'd need to sell to fund it. I can even recall the horror at a $14.00 school stationery bill from high school. I could get a heck of a lot for that now.

Amongst today's purchases were ten of those large manilla art folios. I need them to tame the piles of newspaper clippings and magazine articles that have been accumulating. What do other people do to restore order to their newspaper articles? If anyone has some handy hints on coping with them all, please enlighten me!

I also got a cool lava lamp ruler, because every girl needs one of them.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Retail therapy

Christmas book vouchers + University Book Shop = Happy Vanda

Two new titles added to the bedside table high rise sculpture today are:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

Bookman Beattie and others keep telling me I must read this, so I shall be obedient for once in my life. I have read so many great reviews, and being the type of gal who is easily swayed by popular opinion, I felt it my duty to read it and form my own view.

The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin

This title has been lurking in my Books of Interest notebook (a black notebook with a stylish paua shell koru inlay) I spotted it on the shelf and it kind of jumped into my hand.

I had wanted to get Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, so I could read it and see what a crime writer needs to do to get nominated for a Booker, but UBS were out of stock, so I've placed an order. I'll have to wait a bit before I can discover his secret.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Confessions of a slow reader

New year's resolutions are made to be broken. In fact the only New Year's resolution I've managed to keep so far is the one to stop doing housework - but even that's going to have to give sometime soon.

One of the vague generalisation resolutions I made was to try and read more this year. I read a lot, or so I thought until I tallied up my reading record (the one in the boring spiral bound grey school notebook) It fell far short of what I'd perceived to have read, and yeah, sure, it didn't take into account the short story collections I dip into but haven't read every single one so can't in all honesty write in as completed, or text books, or magazine and journal articles, but all the same, I was disappointed with my effort.

I think part of the problem is when it comes to reading, I am a savourer. I have friends who can polish off a novel in a day, no problem, but do admit to missing out on the intricacies of the language and the careful details. I envy them though, their ability to plough through their book lists and experience all those authors who I would love to read, but am realistic enough to know I will never make the time. I like to chew on the words, roll them around in my mouth and enjoy their flavour before swallowing and moving on to the next morsel.

So how does a savourer train herself to be a bit more of a gorger? I'm open to suggestions here!

My resolution to read more books is off to a shaky start. It's already half way through January and I have opened my first novel this morning. Yes folks, I have been through the entire summer holidays without even opening a book! Part of that was the need for a break, but also, most of the places we stayed at on our holiday didn't have bedside reading lights! I know, what were they thinking?!

This morning I finally opened and have started to read Joanne Drayton's Ngaio Marsh: Her life in Crime. I Brought this book in September, and it's been loitering on my bedside table since then, and finally reached the front of the queue.

I have a lot to read. There's the Ngaio Marsh novels from my Ngaio Marsh challenge. The books I read as research for the Write On radio show, books for reviewing on Dunedin Diary for Channel 9 television. Then there's the pile of books I brought last year and haven't got around to yet. (By the way, does anyone know the average stats for percentage of books actually read in any one person's library?)(Mine would be appalling.) Then there's those temptations you see in the shops and have an overwhelming need to possess, or the books reviewed on blogs that pique your curiousity, let alone the books that you think you should read to be a rounded reader, that everyone kindly refer to as classics.


So wish me luck in my quest to read more. I'm realistic enough to not put an actual number on my target, that's just setting yourself up for failure. But I would like to beat last year's 50ish. (The vagueness due to my belief I must surely have forgotten to record some titles.)

I shall endeavour to up my spead from snail to amble.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Muti murders and other nasties

It's Summer School time at the University of Otago. Courtesy of traveling away up north for the holidays I didn't enrol in any papers this year, although I was kindly given permission to gate crash a few of the lectures in this year's Forensic Biology course. Most of the course is a repetition of the one I did last year, but I did want to catch the lectures by visiting South African forensic anthropologist Maryna Stern, from the University of Pretoria.

Listening to overseas specialists always gives you an appreciation of how good we've got it in New Zealand. Here are some scary statistics she outlined about South Africa.

It has a population of around 46 million, plus an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants.

There are 18 000 - 20 000 murders per year officially, and she thought that was on the low side of reality.

There are 150 000 gunshot wound incidents.

14 000 car highjackings.

This is why so many choose to emigrate here!

They bury over 10 000 unidentified bodies every year. These aren't all from murders or foul play. Many are just people who have died of natural causes and have been found. Many people have no official documents, and have never been to a denist, so have no dental records or medical records to aid in identification.

She also talked of the incredible superstitions of the native population and of some of the Muti Murders. Muti means strong medicine, and they believe body parts have inherent powers, and are so targeted for use in medicines. The victims are often children.

It was a fascinating lecture and as I said earlier, it made me appreciate how peaceful life is in our country.

It also brought to mind the Mo Hayder book I read last year, Ritual. This book carries themes of Muti murders and superstition in the immigrant population in Britain.

It got me to thinking would a novel based on this kind of superstitious magic work in a New Zealand setting? Would readers be able to imagine people being murdered for body bits to go in magical concoction in our quiet little island paradise?

Stranger things have happened.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Death in Ecstasy

By Ngaio Marsh

Nigel Bathgate has followed his nose into the temple of the Sacred Flame, a cult under the thrall of charismatic priest Jasper Garnette. As Bathgate watches the ceremony in which the Chosen Vessel drinks from the Flaming Cup, the young woman initiate drinks, twitches and pitches forward dead.

The cup has clearly been poisoned with cyanide and Bathgate calls his friend Chief Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn onto the case.

They find themselves immersed in the inner workings of a cult that seems to cater for the monied and restless, where petty jealousy and pandering for the favours of the cults leader seems to be the norm. So is the motive jealousy, or money? Both are involved. Throw in an outspoken American, odd and challenged couple, young women and plenty of gullible people, et voila, you have a mystery.

I enjoyed this book. It was first published in 1936, but I couldn't help but imagine this is what it is like in modern day cults which prey on the monied, disenchanted and gullible.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Of birthdays and Inspiration bouquets

Mr Six-year-old made the transformation to Mr Seven-year-old the other day. naturally there was a party involved, with little friends and all the main food groups starting with ch - chippies, cheerios, cheezels and chocolate.

While on holiday he grew very attached to giraffes so I made him a giraffe cake, replicating the giraffe enclosure at Orana Park, with the assistance of some Lego friends. Creating cakes is one of the best bits about organising a party.

Seven does seem so very grown up. When they hit seven you can't kid yourself anymore that the wee poppets have just started school and are little and babyish. Nooooo, they don't let you think that. At seven, they correct you, your grammar, general knowledge, and you can't fudge answers and make them up anymore as they come right back at you. Actually, he's been doing that for years.

The party was lots of fun, with a treasure hunt, hide and seek, and the priceless joy of seeing a group of little kids belting out ABBA songs on ABBA Sing Star. Took me back to my childhood and made me have yearnings for a girls night, with some good wine and a few ABBA moments of our own.
The other lovely surprise was being given an Inspiration Award by dear Joanne Ganley at Aspiring Writer - Thanks Joanne - you made my day!

Part of this Inspiration Award is you hand it on to other bloggers who inspire you and whose blogs add that sparkle to your day. In fact there are rules :

1. Please put the logo of the award on your blog.
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award.
3. Nominate 7 or more blogs.
4. Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.

I find that most of the bloggers who have already been nominated by Joanne are my regular ports of call and are bloggers who prop up my psych, so my nominations will repeat some Aspiring Writer's, but hey, that's OK, because it reinforces to them that their regular postings and musings are appreciated and valued by many!

So in no particular order:

Joanne, this one is coming right back at you. I enjoy dropping by and seeing what you are up to at Aspiring Writer and enjoy the pics from your garden.

Rachael at The Sound of Butterflies

Mary Mac at O Audacious Book

Graham at Beattie's Book Blog

Paula at Trendy But Casual

The Paradoxical Cat at Schroedinger's Tabby

Claire at Ice Lines

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise

So you see folks, I have become rather dependent on my friends in the blogosphere for maintaining my sanity and equillibrium.

I'm sure the time I spend visiting is time well spent.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Under the Christmas Tree

Christmas isn't Christmas without books. Every year I hold my breath while whoever is wearing the red hat and playing Santa hands out the gifts and I pray something book shaped will be delivered. Lucky me - several book shapes were delivered.

I didn't receive and crime fiction this year, but did get a great looking crime non-fiction book from my understanding Hubby. Murder, Mayhem and Mischief, by Graham Bell. Graham was a high profile police officer before his retirement and also presenter of the crime busting police show Police Ten 7. This books tells of his career, some of the characters, high profile cases, frustrations and everyday life in the New Zealand police force. This should be a very useful book for a gal like me.

It was also a cook book Christmas, with three new additions to the kitchen shelf:

Jo Seager: The Cook School Recipes. We'd been coveting this one in the book shops before Christmas, so were delighted to be gifted it. Only trouble with being on holiday has been we haven't had the chance to test drive any of the recipes. I plan to remedy that soon.

Molto Italiano by Mario Batali. We loved watching Mario 's television show where he visited Italian restaurants and food artisans in America. So Hubby gave me this book which looks just scrumptious. I have salivated over the pages, and look forward to dining Italiano style soon.

And coincidentally, I gave Hubby Mario Batali Italian Grill, seeing as he is king of the BBQ - Hubby, as well as Mario. We will be eating well!

We're going to need a bigger kitchen bookshelf.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Home sweet home

After 3686.3 km of tootling around the countryside in the car, we are finally home. I don't like to be the whingy type, but I was quite relieved to leave the 36 degree heat of Christchurch on Friday, and swap it or Dunedin's 14 degrees and rain.

A few holiday highlights...

Christmas with family in Palmerston North.
The pohutukawa trees in flower in Wellington.
Taking the kids on the electric train into Wellington city and discovering the Wellington Railway Station has a platform 9 3/4
Riding on the miniature trains in Havelock North.
Riding on the miniature railway in Palmerston North.
Looking at the model railway near Mt Bruce.
(This holiday featured a lot of trains)
Feijoa Rush Munro icecream in Hawkes Bay.
Seeing someone in the waiting room at the Wellesley Rd Medical Centre in Napier reading Overkill. (Don't ask why we were there!)
The meercats at Wellington zoo.
Hand feeding the giraffes at Orana Park in Christchurch.
Seeing the coracle the survivors of the Dundonald shipwreck built and sailed in between Disappointment Island and Auckland Island over 100 years ago. Go see it at the Christchurch museum.

Biggest disappointment:

They've replaced the wonderful old two-level one-way bridge on State Highway 1 near Seddon, where the cars go underneath on the rickety wooden roadway and the trains on top. I'd spent the half hour before we got to it telling the kids how cool it was going on a bridge where the trains trundled above you, building up their anticipation and then we get to it and ... disappointed!

Anyway, here we are at home, the laundry is dealt with, the car emptied out of bags, toys, a large assortment of feathers found on the way and numerous chocolate wrappers. The mail's been collected from the neighbours including a few more Christmas cards and pressies and the Sunday newspapers the dopey folk delivered despite me putting them on hold. The cat has been picked up from the boarding kennels and won't let us out of her sight.

It's back to the real world.